A whole mess of factors goes into what projects a director takes on. A young up-and-comer might be happy just to get his first directing credit, regardless of what it might actually be about. A director who's been around the block might pick up a project way outside of their wheelhouse just for the experience. And the promise of a couple bucks doesn't hurt, either.
In other words, sometimes you just can't pin a filmmaker down. Here are some rather odd and unexpected director-movie pairings.
1. Sidney Lumet, 'The Wiz' (1978)
Between "12 Angry Men," "Network," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Serpico," it's fair to call the late Sidney Lumet an all-time great. But considering most of Lumet's career was dedicated to crime and drama, "The Wiz," a musical "The Wizard of Oz" adaptation set in Harlem (and, later, Oz), is a definite oddball in his canon. Starring such powerhouses of African-American culture as Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell and Diana Ross, the movie tanked at the box office but later received some long-term lovin' on cable and DVD. Ready for another "The Wiz" credit shocker? The adapted screenplay was written by Joel Schumacher, destroyer of Bat-franchises.
2. Robert Altman, 'Popeye' (1980)
The first of two Robin Williams flicks on the list, "Popeye" is a strange little blip on Robert Altman's resume. Critics widely regarded "Popeye" as his worst film upon its 1980 release, but like a few other flicks on the list, "Popeye" has gotten another look from critics and Altman fans with age. Regardless of the quality, props to Altman for making a comic adaptation before all the cool kids were doing it.
3. James Cameron, 'Piranha Part Two: The Spawning' (1981)
As they say, everyone starts somewhere, and the most profitable director of all time got his on the sequel to Joe Dante's 1978 B-movie. Before James Cameron was melting robots with Arnold, melting hearts with Leo and melting down and reconstructing other movies' plots with "Avatar," he was getting his first directing break on the set of "Piranha Part Two: The Spawning," the only James Cameron movie that could in any way be thought of as forgettable. Cameron was initially hired to work on the movie's special effects but landed the gig after the original director abandoned the project. And the rest is history ... billions and billions of dollars of history.
4. Leonard Nimoy, 'Three Men and a Baby' (1987)
Leonard Nimoy. "Three Men and a Baby." At first glance these two things have seemingly nothing in common. Leonard Nimoy is Spock. He also does things like host creepy TV shows and photograph voluptuous women, but he's mostly Spock. "Three Men and a Baby" is that silly Ted Danson/Steve Guttenberg/Tom Selleck movie where three men hi-lariously struggle to keep a baby alive. But, believe it or not, Nimoy, that veritable renaissance man, was behind the camera for the all the those bachelor hijinks. He was also presumably around when they caught that ghost on camera, as well.
5. Jerry Zucker, 'Ghost' (1990)
Speaking of ghosts ... When you think of Jerry Zucker movies, you probably think of Leslie Nielsen on an airplane. Or Leslie Nielsen as a bumbling police officer. In fact, you might pretty much just think of Leslie Nielsen. But you probably didn't know Zucker was responsible for the creepiest pottery/love scene in film history. Yep, Zucker directed "Ghost," the iconic romance movie that crushed the box office and even scored a nomination for Best Picture. Quite frankly, it wasn't all that great, but at the very least it helped Whoopi Goldberg on her way to her EGOT.
6. Francis Ford Coppola, 'Jack' (1996)
Francis Ford Coppola has had one hell of a career. "The Godfather" alone, made when he was just 33, would have been enough to qualify him as a great — y'know, considering it's widely viewed as one of best and one of the most influential movies ever. When you add his next three movies, "The Conversation," "The Godfather Part II," and "Apocalypse Now" to the list, you have maybe the best four-movie run in film history. His career was a bit wobblier in the '80s, where he directed hits like "Peggy Sue Got Marred" and megaflops like ""One From the Heart." And the '90s brought us "Jack." Yes, that "Jack." The one where Robin Williams is a kid aging rapidly and, because of that, goofy scenarios arise. According to Coppola, he made "Jack" mostly because he wanted to work with Robin Williams, and to this day, the movie provides one of his biggest royalty checks.
7. Robert Rodriguez, 'The Faculty' (1998)
What do Usher, Jon Stewart, Salma Hayek, Josh Hartnett and Shooter McGavin have in common? They're all part of one of the most random casts ever assembled — the one for the most random movie Robert Rodriguez has ever made (unless you count "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3D" as more random, which we couldn't fault you for.) Mostly known for making violent off-kilter pictures set near the Mexican border, Rodriguez made a clear jaunt into the mainstream with "The Faculty." Mostly forgotten these days, the movie is actually a pretty entertaining cross-spoof of high school flicks and the sci-fi genre, with some stylish, fun directing from the future "Spy Kids" maestro.
8. Wes Craven, 'Music of the Heart' (1999)
Wes Craven's name lands somewhere among George Romero, Sam Raimi, and Alfred Hitchcock in terms of folks who've helped to define the horror genre. Between "The Hills Have Eyes," "The Last House on the Left," "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and the "Scream," movies, Craven fires out horror classics at the rate most of us eat breakfast (that is to say, frequently). But in 1999, Craven took time off from his busy schedule of thinking of terrible ways for people to die to direct Meryl Streep in "Music of the Heart," a tearjerker about a woman who commits her life to teaching violin to disadvantaged kids. Or, the exact opposite of everything Craven has done before and after.
9. Louis C.K., 'Pootie Tang' (2001)
While not shocking to Louis C.K. diehards, who have found a place in their hearts for this box office and critical bomb, the fact that everyone's favorite stand-up wrote and directed "Pootie Tang," a blaxploitation parody featuring Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes and Bernie Mac, will probably come as a surprise to everyone else. That is, if you've even heard of it. Although the ultra-silly movie has found a cult following, Louie himself isn't much of a fan, stating that after the studio re-edited his footage, he "[hated] the way the movie ended up." We're just glad he finally has a chance act, write, edit and essentially do whatever he wants on "Louie" — such as getting David Lynch to do this.
10. Alfonso Cuaron, 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' (2004)
Have you ever noticed how "The Prisoner of Azkaban" is the best of the "Harry Potter" movies? Us, too. It probably had something to do with Alfonso Cuaron taking over directing duties following two serviceable if somewhat uninspired adaptations by Chris Columbus. Prior to killing it with "Gravity" this month, Cuaron was also responsible for great movies like "Children of Men" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien," but "Azkaban" still marks his only stab at a conventional blockbuster. Cuaron hadn't picked up the books until he was approached to direct, but (like the rest of us) he loved the story and signed on. Cuaron decided not to take on another "Potter" movie because, in his own words, "I guess I have a short attention span." Fair enough.
11. Fred Durst, 'The Education of Charlie Banks' (2007)
Well, we think the most surprising thing about this one is just that Fred Durst, of "Nookie" and a backwards red Yankees hat, has directed a major motion picture (well, two, actually: "Charlie Banks" and 2008's formulaic "The Longshots"). But almost as surprising is that "Charlie Banks," a college drama starring Jessie Eisenberg — how's that for a strange director/lead actor combinations? — isn't all that bad, and even took home an award at the Tribeca Film Festival. However, both of Durst's movies were murdered at the box office, and, for better or for worse, he has since returned to yelling "Uh!" and "What?!" into a microphone, as shown here. Hey, maybe "Charlie Banks" was just a fisheye-lens away from being a classic.